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Photo of the Week: 2012 in Pictures

This week’s “Photo of the Week” is a compilation of photos from major events throughout 2012. It was a busy year to say the least. We continued to work to combat drought in the Sahel region, we successfully launched the Child Survival Call to Action,hosted the Frontiers in Development Conference, we closed our USAID mission in Panama, and continued our efforts in providing assistance all around the world. Stay tuned this new year for our weekly blog feature “Photo of the Week”.

 

FrontLines Year in Review: Catching Ethiopians Before They Fall

This is part of our FrontLines Year in Review series. This originally appeared in FrontLines May/June 2012 issue.

Despite one of the region’s worst droughts, no famine struck rural Ethiopia last year. The drought’s impact was lessened by a food-and-cash-for-public-works program USAID supports and helped design. Today, one of Africa’s largest social safety nets does not just protect against chronic food insecurity, it helps communities weather the future.

It is December 2011, and life goes on as normal in the arid highlands of Tigray, the northern Ethiopian region whose burnt siennas, giant cactus flowers, and peaks and canyons could easily be confused with those of the American Southwest. Here, donkeys carry grain and pull packs on the side of the road. Farmers work their fields. There is no sign of a crisis.

Normality is not typically a measure of success, but in this case, and in this particular region, it is. Beginning in early 2011, a severe drought decimated parts of East Africa, leading to a June declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

The drought was considered in some parts of the region to be one of the worst in 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people in the Horn of Africa. The month before the official drought declaration, USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warned: “This is the most severe food-security emergency in the world today.”

In Tigray, a region held hostage to annual alternating dry and wet seasons, the impact has been minimal. The reason, according to many who live there, is a riff on the same theme: Because of “safety net,” they say, things are OK.

A beneficiary of the USAID-supported Productive Safety Net Program living near the Mai-Aqui site, in Tigray, Ethiopia. Photo Credit: Nena Terrell.

“Safety net,” which several Ethiopian ethnicities know by its English term, refers to the flagship food-security program designed by the Ethiopian Government, USAID and other donors after another severe drought hit the country in 2003.

The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as it is officially called, originated as part of a new approach to address chronic food shortages through scheduled food or cash transfers to chronically food-insecure populations in exchange for labor on public works projects.

“The food ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families. The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public-works projects designed to improve communities as a whole,” says Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace.

As a result, crucial infrastructure—roads, watersheds, canals, terracing, irrigation systems, schools and health clinics—has been built or rehabilitated with the labor of the food insecure.

According to USAID/Ethiopia Mission Director Tom Staal, as the program was being designed in consultations led by the Ethiopian Gov­ernment, donors realized the need to not just respond to crises as they happened, but to build up resilience among the most vulnerable communities, giving them the ability to weather the inevitable dry stretches on their own.

“Before PSNP, those in chronic need were provided assistance through emergency programs,” says Scott Hocklander, chief of USAID/Ethiopia’s Office for Food Assistance and Livelihood Transitions.

“While this food aid saved lives, it did not contribute to development activities or address the root causes of food insecurity.”

Today, because of the safety net, approximately 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way…[continued]

Read the rest of the article in FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: Community Members and Police Take Back Jamaica’s Streets

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

As a community-based policing project comes to a close after more than six years, the partnership between police and citizens offers a crime-crushing model for the Caribbean.

Paulette Simpson vividly remembers the days of terror. With a grimace, she recalls one of her darkest moments—when she was bombarded with the piercing sounds of gun shots, the shrieking of women and children, and the smell of blood filling the air in her small community of Gravel Heights, in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

“I was afraid,” she said. “Every day I lived in fear that my life would be taken away from me. I did not want to go out and work. I did not want to die.” In 2010, that fear drove Simpson to pack her bags, close her small grocery shop and seek refuge in a safer community.

After closing her shop and fleeing her community of Gravel Heights, Paulette Simpson was happy to return home and reopen her grocery shop, confident in the ability of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to keep her safe from gangs. Photo Credit: USAID

Two years later, the terrible violence has now relented. In July, total major crime decreased by 49 percent over the previous year in the St. Catherine North Police Division where Spanish Town is located. Anthony Castelle, the division’s senior police superintendent, attributes community-based policing for the reduction. Homicide rates have been reduced, gang activities have been disrupted, and law enforcement officers are regaining the trust and confidence of the people they are sworn to protect, rekindling a partnership that had been badly tarnished.

The newfound security can be partially attributed to the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) fight against crime and violence, with support from the USAID-funded Community Empowerment and Transformation (COMET) project (PDF). COMET focuses efforts on bringing together members of the community and the police in a new community-based policing partnership.

An Island Battleground

Gravel Heights is just one of many communities in Jamaica where criminal gangs caused many to fear for their lives. Gang members would often compete violently for resources and turf in the weapons and drugs trade. They extorted local businesses, and ran neighborhoods as their own fiefdoms. The crime and violence became overwhelming from the mid-90s through 2010, and citizens lost faith in the police. During the most intense periods of violence, five murders a week were reported in Spanish Town. Like Simpson, many left their homes to save their lives.

In 2006, at the height of the violence, USAID began working with residents, the JCF, the Government of Jamaica and civil society groups to come up with solutions. USAID’s COMET project launched community-based policing (CBP) programs, which required intense interaction between community members and the police. Neighborhood watches were set up; youth clubs came together to stand up against the violence; advertisements went up on buses and bumper stickers encouraging people to work with the police; and community consultative boards met regularly to discuss issues and activities with the police.

One of the greatest challenges was the distrust that had built up between the police and community members after many years of violence. People didn’t feel like they could trust the police to protect them and the police did not feel that they could depend on members of the community to give them the information they needed on criminals in the area.

“Prior to the program, there was a time when we, the police, could not walk within a number of high-risk communities without being shot. We would have to venture in armored vehicles to protect ourselves, and today it is much different,” said Stephanie Lindsay, deputy superintendent of the JCF. “The key element is engaging community members, finding out what their issues are and how we can go about resolving them as they are the ones who know best.

“We started this by taking the time to regularly walk into the communities and speak with the citizens on the streets or within their homes in an informal manner as our friends, as our neighbors. This simple gesture spoke volumes and started the process of building our relationship. Yes, some members were reluctant at first to speak with us. However, we have a new generation of youngsters that decided enough is enough with the crime and violence.” [continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: How to Get All Children Reading

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Since literacy has been shown to lead to better health, higher incomes and more vibrant democracies, USAID and partners are seeking new solutions to an age-old problem.

Whether you’re digesting a work of literary genius, checking a text on your cellphone or scoping out the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, you’re reading. More times a day than you can even venture to count, you’re doing what 793 million adults worldwide cannot. These individuals aren’t missing out on a luxury. They’re being deprived of a necessity.

People who can read enjoy better health and make more money. By developing skills in literacy, they contribute to creating safer, more stable democracies, and are able to more effectively serve their families and communities.

If all students in low-income countries left primary school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. That’s equivalent to a 12 percent drop in world poverty, a statistic too big to ignore.

USAID, World Vision, AusAID, and the U.S. Department of Education are leading the charge in finding early grade reading solutions. Photo Credit: Derek Brown.

That’s why USAID has partnered with AusAID, its Australia development counterpart, and the international NGO World Vision to launch a multi-year initiative designed to improve early-grade reading outcomes in low-resource settings.

All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development is leveraging the power of research, capitalizing on innovation, pursuing partnerships, and borrowing from cutting-edge science, technology and 21st century infrastructure to achieve substantial impact in increasing child literacy around the globe,” says Alexis Bonnell, chief of education engagement for USAID. One component of this initiative was the global competition to advance quality approaches to early-grade reading, whose winners were announced in September.

As the second of USAID’s multi-donor grant-making Grand Challenges, All Children Reading is engaging new actors to improve the design, production, distribution and accessibility of teaching and learning materials and education data. After putting out a call for proposals to improve early-grade literacy in poor countries, the competition received over 450 applications from foundations, corporations and individuals to work in over 75 countries.

“It was a huge early success, receiving so many proposals for the competition,” noted Anthony Bloome, campaign director of the All Children Reading Grand Challenge and senior education technology specialist at USAID. “This was a clear indication of how many motivated individuals and organizations are out there interested in doing extremely valuable work to advance early-grade reading around the world.”

Ultimately, 32 innovators were selected to help scale up or implement their projects. Over half of the submissions came from—and half of the awards were ultimately given to—local organizations in recipient countries, many of whom had never received funding from USAID.

“With all the Grand Challenges, and All Children Reading specifically, USAID is engaging new actors in the development world and supporting some of the most innovative solutions to a problem that has not been solved through traditional means,” explains Natasha de Marcken, director of USAID’s Office of Education.

On Sept. 7, as part of USAID’s International Literacy Day celebration, the innovators came together to share their approaches to improving early-grade reading outcomes. The DevelopmentXChange, held in Washington, D.C., showcased and traded ideas on cost-effective, scalable innovations grounded in science and technology that, with the support of USAID and its partners, will have a significant impact on the world.

Improving worldwide literacy rates won’t happen overnight, but with approaches like those of the Grand Challenge winners, PlanetRead, Drakkar Ltd. and Pratham, this latest international campaign appears to be headed in the right direction.

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Video of the Week: A New Kind of Development

In 2011, USAID, JP Morgan, and the Gates, Gatsby, and Rockefeller Foundations announced a first-of-its-kind effort to invest $25 million in the African Agricultural Capital Fund, which delivers much needed growth capital to boost the productivity and profitability of Africa‘s undercapitalized agriculture sector. NUAC Farm in Northern Uganda is one of the first agribusinesses to receive financing from this fund.

 

FrontLines Feature: A USAID Legacy in Latin America: Smaller Families and Better Health

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Trinidad Hernández lives in a wood-panel house with a zinc roof and a dirt floor in La Patriota, Nicaragua, a small rural village near the center of Nicaragua. The 39-year-old is a cattle farmer and volunteers as a health promoter. He enjoys the respect his community gives him as a person of authority who helps solve some of the health problems they face. He is part of a community-based family planning program that has been supported by USAID since 2003 and has been integrated into the Nicaraguan Government’s national health strategy.

Maryuri Arellano gives a health talk on adolescent pregnancy prevention. Photo Credit: Kimberly Cole, USAID

Today, more than 1,000 men and women like Hernández are involved in the country’s ambitious community-based efforts to improve health by helping parents decide the size of their families. These community health promoters educate and supply contraceptives to their neighbors who live in the most remote villages. Buttressing the approach is a USAID-sponsored 2011 study (PDF) indicating that, when men are involved as partners and community members, there are lasting improvements in reproductive health.

The number of male family planning promoters in Nicaragua has grown dramatically since 2006. Hernández reports that “the women in my community have confidence in me because I offer all of the [family planning] methods that are available and I give them enough information so that they can choose the method that is right for them. And then I make sure to always have their next supply ready.”

Programs like this, which are part of the USAID graduation strategy in countries like Nicaragua, gradually prepare them for the Agency’s departure. The goal is to maintain the successes achieved with assistance both during and after graduation. Nicaragua is an especially successful case in a region where improved education for women, greater economic opportunity and increased availability of family planning have reaped enormous benefits overall, say USAID/Nicaragua officials.

In Nicaragua, specifically, increased use of family planning has coincided with a reduction in maternal mortality by almost a third since 1980.

From Six to Two

In the 1960s, the average woman in Latin America had six children and many died in childbirth. Back then, most women in remote areas didn’t have access to family planning or know that they could space or limit their pregnancies.

Today, most women have between two and three healthy children.
Infant mortality has fallen faster in Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world, declining by 70 percent since the 1960s. Child mortality has declined by 57 percent and the region’s maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 41 percent since 1990.

According to Marianela Corriols, USAID/Nicaragua’s project development specialist for health, this is not a coincidence. “There is strong evidence that the dramatic expansion of family planning services during this period was a major factor in saving these lives, by giving couples the ability to space their children’s births, and limit their family size, according to their own desires,” says Corriols.

While USAID has been the world leader in family planning funding since the 1960s, Corriols notes that the Agency was mostly an outside facilitator of country plans. “It is the leadership of host country governments and civil society that have led to these stunning results,” she says…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: In Old Kenyan Town, It’s No Longer Just ‘Old Wise Men’

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

With the groundbreaking election of 11 female village elders, a USAID-backed pilot project seeks more equitable governance and protection of women’s assets.

Parakuo Naimodu is an unlikely success story. A mother of 11 children, she has lived in the town of Ol Posimoru in southern Kenya for years—at one time, with a husband who beat and verbally abused her. Only five of her 11 (four sons and one daughter) children finished school.

To resolve her domestic troubles, Naimodu sought the help of the local elders. Elders traditionally hold the authority to decide disputes that bind both men and women in Kenya’s villages. Naimodu hoped they would help intervene to stop her husband’s beatings. But the elders, all men, sided with her husband. And bringing a case against him only led to more abuse when she returned home.

Parakuo Naimodu, center, graduates from the Justice Project training, with Caroline Lentupuru, a gender resource specialist with Landesa, at right. Photo Credit: Deborah Espinosa

The couple eventually separated, but Naimodu’s husband continued to verbally abuse her whenever they passed in the village.

This all changed on July 10, when Naimodu and 10 other women in Ol Pusimoru, an area with a population of about 2,500, were formally elected as elders.

Elders meet on an as-needed basis to resolve land and other disputes, including family problems. They help to resolve everything from boundary disputes and trespassing to cattle rustling and criminal cases, including rape. Depending on the case, hearings are held with testimony by both parties and witnesses, and site visits help the elders to gather information. Elders may impose various penalties, including fines in the form of livestock or chickens, apologies to the aggrieved party, and other forms of punishment. Decisions may be appealed to a government court, but the court system is expensive and often intimidating for women.

Once Naimodu became an elder and an expert in her legal rights, her life dramatically changed. Her husband stopped harassing her. She says that he heard she was trained in women’s constitutional rights and a recognized member of the dispute-resolution system. “[H]e knows he cannot interfere with my life anymore without facing the consequences,” she explains.

Naimodo and her sister elders are all beneficiaries of USAID’s pilot project, the Kenya Justice Project (KJP), designed to help village elders and other justice officials support and enforce women’s rights to land and to have a say in how forest resources are governed.

The 11 woman elders have broken the mold in a country where women’s rights to equal participation in society are still very fragile, according to Deborah Espinosa, Africa program director for Landesa, the implementing NGO that works to secure land and property rights for marginalized groups around the world.

“Thanks to Kenya’s new constitution, gender equality is now a legal requirement. Women have greater legal protection of their rights to own and inherit property and to share in marital property,” says Espinosa. “The important challenge now is for Kenyans to know about these rights and to protect and enforce them in a country where women are not traditionally property owners,” she says, explaining that male relatives frequently sell family land without consulting women; and that women are routinely thrown out of marital homes by in-laws when husbands die, plunging them and their children into dire circumstances.

This kind of family-based “land grabbing” is widespread in Kenya, Espinosa says. “With their male counterparts, the women elders may help to bring an end to these harmful practices by enforcing the law.”

“The [Kenya Justice] project helps women and girls learn about their legal rights and it builds skills so that they can take on a bigger role in decision making in their homes and in their communities. This project also works with men and boys so that they understand how women contribute to the community,” says Achieng Akemu, senior rule of law adviser at USAID…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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Photo of the Week: Typhoon Relief in the Philippines

Typhoon Bopha made landfall in the Philippines on December 4, 2012, affecting more than five million people and wreaking a path of destruction across 30 provinces. USAID responded swiftly by providing more than $4.5 million in assistance to help meet the most critical needs of those affected by the storm.  With staff pre-positioned in the Philippines prior to the storm, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) was the first on the ground to reach the hardest-hit areas, identify needs, assess humanitarian conditions, and provide assistance in coordination with the Philippine government.  In addition, USAID/OFDA arranged for an airlift of emergency shelter supplies from its warehouse in Dubai to help 20,000 families who had lost their homes.  USAID/OFDA also reached out to the U.S. military to provide additional air support for the immediate transport of relief commodities from Manila to the most affected areas.  USAID/OFDA continues to work with our partners in the Philippines to help communities hit hard by the typhoon.

Video of the Week: Reaching Farmers Where it is Needed Most

In social marketing, we know that visual learning is more likely to engender successful behavior change than many other types of learning. Traditional agricultural extension services are designed to link farmers person-to-person with new information about appropriate farming practices, when and what to plant, and how to use farm technologies. Traditionally, farming associations or other organizations will employ extension agents to visit communities and train others – thus, “showing” farmers new techniques instead of simply “telling.”

But there is a fundamental problem with this model: Too much ground to cover. Because more than 80 percent of the food produced in “developing” places is grown by smallholder farmers, extension services can be expensive, difficult to scale and to sustain.

It is critical to address these issues with whatever tools are at our disposal. One approach is the complementary use of video in a hybrid extension service. A study conducted by India-based NGO Digital Green (originally a Microsoft Research pilot) concluded that money spent on a video service can be up to ten times more effective than a traditional extension service, on a per adoption basis.*

So why does video work better? It’s the Swiss Army knife of communications tools. While modern extension services are highly dependent on the quality of the trainer, a video can be rehearsed until it tells its story effectively, and then used in perpetuity. That enables an organization to articulate and reinforce a message in a uniquely scalable way. Video can also provide tailored and actionable directions to illiterate farmers. Further, the savings and increased convenience for projects can be huge – in terms of human resources, training and travel time and other associated costs.

By the end of 2012, USAID’s FACET project team will have conducted low-cost video workshops for USAID implementing partners, mission staff, agribusinesses and farmer associations in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Using a participatory workshop model the goal is to catalyze video usage to strengthen agricultural extension.

This photo slideshow is from FACET’s recent October workshop in Dakar, Senegal. Participants included project staff and partners from the USAID‘s Le Projet Croissance Economique, which focuses on Senegal’s agricultural growth, productivity and competitiveness.

Below is a one minute clip of a mock video put together by the FEPROMAS team, a Senegalese farming federation, during the workshop, focusing on best practices in packaging corn for the marketplace.

Read more about the workshop content.

View and download FACET’s Low-Cost Video Toolkit.

Follow @ICTforAg on Twitter and Facebook.

* Gandhi, R.; Veeraraghavan, R.; Toyama, K.; Ramprasad, V. (2009). Participant Video and Mediated Instruction for Agricultural Extension. Digital Green.

Ending Human Trafficking is Within Our Reach

Chris Milligan serves as mission director to USAID Burma. Photo Credit: USAID

This post originally appeared on the Free the Slaves blog.

Editor’s note: The historic anti-slavery concern last weekend in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was made possible by a coalition of organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We invited USAID to reflect on what the concert meant for the modern abolition movement. Chris Milligan is USAID’s Mission Director in Burma.

What a year of historic firsts.  In April, Secretary Clinton re-established USAID’s mission in Burma, our first in 24 years.  In November, President Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country, and he and Secretary Hillary Clinton officially dedicated USAID’s mission.  And this past Sunday (December 16), in Burma’s first city of Rangoon, the first major international live-event was held in over half a century.

The event was Live in Myanmar, MTV EXIT’s 31st concert to counter trafficking in persons.  Held in Rangoon’s People’s Square, at the base of the country’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, over 50,000 people gathered to hear multi Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Jason Mraz perform.  He was joined by top artists from Burma and Thailand, including Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein and R Zarni, Chan Chan, Sai Sai, Lynn Lynn, Phyo Gyi and Chit Htu Wai, and Slot Machine.  The commitment and work by these local and regional artists was particularly moving.  All performed for enthusiastic fans, and all came with a common purpose: to raise awareness about human trafficking.

The United Nations estimates that at any one point there are 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, more than half of these victims are in the Asia Pacific region.  As President Obama said, “The fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.”  And we know that raising awareness is key to that fight.  Mixing live music and critical messages, the concert organizers and participants shared in-country contact numbers for counter-trafficking police and NGOs, excerpts from two MTV EXIT documentary videos developed in Burma, and personal stories of individual Burmese who were trafficked in Southeast Asia.

MTV Exit's anti-slavery concert in Myanmar attracted more than 50,000 people. Photo Credit: MTV Exit / U.S. State Dept.

U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Counter Trafficking Luis CdeBaca both spoke resolutely to the crowd about the U.S. Government’s commitment to combat trafficking in persons globally, and the need for youth to be alert and be educated about trafficking.  USAID has been a dedicated supporter of the MTV EXIT campaign for six years, leveraging the power of music and entertainment as invaluable tools to educate young people about human trafficking.

Most exciting was the Government of Burma’s support and involvement in this effort from start to finish.  Despite the staggering size of crowd, MTV EXIT’s largest to date, the government ensured a safe event without ever losing the celebratory atmosphere of the concert or the seriousness of the issue.  Government representatives spoke passionately and urgently to their youth about personal protection and community awareness, and signed a pledge to work towards the end of human slavery in this generation.  Their determination and commitment gave me hope.

I know that ending human trafficking can feel daunting or at times, even impossible, but on Sunday night, looking out at the crowd, I was inspired that it is within reach.  We know traffickers use technology, like cell phones, and social networking sites to ensnare victims and, yet, there we were, using MTV’s global platform, which reaches 600 million people with lifesaving messages about awareness, protection and support.  As USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah remarked, “As we’ve seen, knowledge can lead to freedom, giving us all the power to end modern slavery.”

Learn more about USAID’s Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy and Challenge Slavery, a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Campus Challenge that calls on university students globally to develop creative technology solutions to prevent trafficking, enable victims to escape from traffickers, and help survivors recover.

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